It’s only been a couple of years since airlines started offering WiFi on airplanes—but we have quickly become accustomed to having it. Think about that. You’re in an aluminum tube, 30,000 feet in the air, traveling at 600 miles an hour—and with a device that cost about as much as your plane ticket, you have the sum total of human knowledge at your fingertips. OK, most of us just watch cat videos, but if you wanted to study quantum physics, or read Plato you could do that, too!
And so in this day and age of high-speed access—from anywhere—it’s hard to imagine a school where the Principal couldn’t email her attendance records to the district office, and worse, where the kids had to be bussed to a different school to take the state’s online standardized tests, because they didn’t have access to the internet. But that’s the situation the kids and teachers and administrators at Sheridan Elementary School in Placer County found themselves in. They had a one megabyte connection to the internet.
I am no technical expert, but if the school only had the equivalent of a one megabyte connection to the sewer main, and two people flushed at the same time, there’d be a heap of trouble and a mess to clean up. That’s just not workable for 80 kids and about a dozen or so teachers and administrators. But the whole town of Sheridan, including the school, had no broadband access. Something had to change.
It took a while, but through the Principal’s dogged determination and the Placer County’s vision of broadband expansion, something finally did. When Sheridan Elementary Principal Melissa Willes started talking to Dieter Wittenberg the IT Manager from Placer County, things began to happen, because Placer had an ongoing program to expand broadband to some of its farther-flung areas.
The program was really about economic development at first. Placer wanted to make sure that small businesses in some of its more remote areas could access the internet. Through that program, they had been working with a company called Wave Broadband. And when Wave heard about the Sheridan school’s dilemma, they agreed to help. Sheridan School and the County put some grant money together. Wave offered them a price and deal they could handle, and then strung about nine miles of new fiber-optic cable to provide a hookup.
It’s hard to overstate how important internet access is to today’s education experience. Kids that don’t have fast reliable access are at a distinct disadvantage. It’s not just an inconvenience. It’s limiting their ability to learn and grow. Today—thanks to Placer County and Wave, the students at Sheridan Elementary have more than 350 megabytes of access, so they can all be learning and testing on the internet at the same time—and the Principal can now email her attendance reports. You might say they’re flushed with success.